A young person hugging their friend to show support.

A guide for young people Grief and loss

When you lose someone close to you, it’s natural to feel sad, depressed, worried or angry. Everyone reacts in their own way. If you’re finding it hard to cope with bereavement, we can help you find support.

What is grief?

It can be extremely difficult when you lose someone or something important to you. Whether you’ve lost a family member, a friend, a pet, or any other significant person in your life, you may feel a whole range of emotions. Grief is an emotional response to this loss. It is a process rather than an event and it can affect how you feel physically, mentally and socially.

You might be grieving because of:

  • the death of a family member, like a parent, grandparent or sibling
  • the death of a friend, or someone you knew at school, college or university
  • the death of someone you work with
  • the death of a trusted adult in your life, such as a sports coach, faith leader or teacher
  • the death of someone by suicide
  • the death of a significant public figure, like a celebrity or someone you follow on social media
  • a change in a relationship
  • an illness of someone close to you, like cancer or dementia
  • the loss of a relationship, like someone moving away or no longer being in your life regularly
  • the loss or death of a pet animal

Whoever you have lost, you need time and space to grieve and come to terms with their death.

Illustration to show that we grow around our grief. There are three jars of the same size on the first row. Each jar contains a ball which gets smaller in size from left to right. Below are three more jars that get bigger from left to right, but the balls stay the same size.

Post credit: Dr Caroline Leaf

"People tend to believe that grief shrinks over time. What really happens is that we grow around our grief."

Three jars of the same size sit in a row. Each jar contains a ball which gets smaller in size from left to right. The text underneath reads: "People tend to believe that grief shrinks over time."

Below that there are three more jars each with a ball inside. These jars get progressively bigger from left to right, but each of the balls is the same size. The text underneath reads: "What really happens is that we grow around our grief."

A mother and son holding hands on a bench looking at each other
I was so aware that the sympathy and questions all came from places of good intent, but I couldn’t handle being the spokesperson of our family’s emotions during such a difficult time.

We all grieve differently

There’s no right or wrong way to grieve and everyone grieves in different ways. You might feel angry, sad, depressed, guilty, relieved, or any other number of emotions. Or you might be numb and not feel anything at all. However you’re feeling is okay and is a normal reaction to losing someone.

Because we all grieve differently, how you react might be different to how other people around you react. For example, the way you grieve might be influenced by your culture, beliefs, or how your family and community understand loss. Your grief might also be influenced by what you feel others expect of you, but it’s important to remember that however you’re feeling is valid – there’s nothing wrong with you if you don’t react to loss the way others do.

While it’s important to look after yourself when grieving, it’s also important to be sensitive to how other people are grieving and accept that everyone’s experience is unique.

Remember, too, that grief can come up at any time. There might be some occasions when you are expecting it, like when you experience one of many ‘firsts’, such as your first holiday or birthday without that person. Or these feelings might catch you unaware sometimes. It might be that you don’t feel anything for a while, and then experience delayed grief. All of these experiences are normal.

In this video, our Activists share their experiences of grief.

Play Video: If you're grieving, this is for you If you're grieving, this is for you

Symptoms of grief

There are a mixture of emotions and responses associated with grief and you may feel all, some or none of these. However you’re feeling, your feelings are valid and you are not alone.

You might feel:

  • shock
  • panic
  • sadness or depression
  • anger
  • fear or anxiety
  • guilt
  • relief
  • numbness, or nothing
  • concerned with your health or other people’s
  • abandoned

You might also experience physical symptoms of grief, including:

  • crying, often when you least expect it
  • aches, pains and headaches
  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue or difficulty sleeping
Two young people sitting together at a picnic bench with their friends.
When my best friend passed away, I barely remember the first few months after he died. I was weighed down by this cloud of absolute nothing. For me, that was one of the things I never knew about grief. It can be so many emotions - or it can be nothing at all.
Ryan's story: How I started talking about my grief
A young person sits in a room wearing a black hoodie and their hair tied back. They are looking to the right with their hand curled over their mouth, lost in thought.

Feelings of guilt and anger

Some people may feel guilty, or like it's their fault. But remember, the loss you have experienced is not your fault. And if you stop feeling sad or in pain, it does not mean that you’ve stopped caring. You are allowed to feel happy, find enjoyment in things and move forward in your life, and it is not a sign that you don’t care enough for the person you have lost.

You may also feel angry, especially if you felt certain choices were taken away from you, such as not being able to visit to say goodbye. You may particularly feel angry if you lost someone during the Covid-19 pandemic. But remember that nothing you said or did caused - or could have changed - what happened, and it is not your fault.

Working through your grief

Two young people sit on a bench in a park. The person on the right has his arm around the other young person. The young person on the left is holding the other persons arm while looking down at the floor.

It takes time to work through grief and it’s best not to do it alone. Sometimes you might be surprised by feelings of sadness when you don’t expect them – or you might keep worrying about other people’s health, or your own. These feelings are all normal. While grief may never fully go away, most of us get through these feelings with the support of family and friends, and learn how to move forward in a new direction.

If you’re struggling to come to terms with a death, you’re finding daily life hard and things don't seem to be getting any better, it can help to talk to someone. Tell a trusted friend, family member or teacher how you’re feeling. It’s okay to ask others to be with you if you need them.

  • Grief doesn’t have a timeline. Just take one step at a time. There isn’t a guidebook on how to grieve and what emotions to feel. You may feel many emotions, you may feel a few emotions or you may feel none at all. If you feel a whirlwind of emotions it’s completely natural.
    Erin, 16
  • Take your time, there is no length of time you have to grieve. You are ready when you feel ready. You grief is valid, just breathe and think about the memories you shared. The pain may be excruciating now, but each day is going to be less painful.
    Charlotte, 24

Stages of grief

The ‘grief cycle’ describes how people adapt in stages after losing someone. Research suggests there are five common stages of grief, but remember that grief is a completely individual process and these stages do not always appear in the same order for everybody. Some people may not experience these stages at all.

Instagram artwork by @janellesilver - the text reads: 'this is how it feels sometimes' with a person in the corner

Instagram artwork by @janellesilver - white text over a black background reads: 'this is how it feels sometimes' with a person sitting in the corner.

It is common to move forwards and backwards through these stages and some people may have a completely different experience of grief altogether.

Feelings of disbelief or confusion about what has happened.

Blaming yourself or others.

Feeling sad and hopeless about your loss.

Feeling guilty that you should have done or said more.

Acknowledging your loss and being prepared to move forward.

Getting support for grief

If you feel as though your grief is making it hard for you to go about daily life, talk to your GP about counselling and professional support.

If you’re experiencing any of the below, these could be signs that you should seek outside help:

Talking to your GP about bereavement can be scary, but they can help you find the right support.

How to speak to your GP
A watercolour image of a blue circle with text in the centre reading: "Small progress is still progress".

Post credit: @laurasnest.de

A watercolour image of a blue circle with text reading: "Small progress is still progress".

Tips and advice for expressing your grief

You may find it helpful to express your grief in different ways. Here are some things you could try to help communicate how you are feeling:

  • Write a letter to the person you have lost telling them all the things you want to say to them.
  • Write a letter to someone who is supporting you, so they know what you are going through.
  • Keep a diary or journal of how you feel.
  • Express yourself through paintings or pictures.
  • Write a song or poem.
  • Create a memory box full of pictures and items which remind you of good times you had with the person you have lost.
Instagram artwork by @ellamasters - the word: 'Hope' on a blue patterned background.

Instagram artwork by @_ellamasters_ - the word: 'Hope' on a blue patterned background.

Instagram artwork by @crazyheadcomics - clouds with raining and thunder that has tips on different ways of coping with grief

Instagram artwork by @crazyheadcomics - clouds with raining and thunder that has tips on different ways of coping with grief.

Instagram artwork by @ellamasters - two hands holding with the words: 'until we meet again, brother.'

Instagram artwork by @_ellamasters_ - two hands holding with the words: 'until we meet again, brother.'

How to help a friend who has been bereaved

It can be difficult to know what to say to someone who is grieving, but your support could really help. Connections with family and friends can help someone who is grieving to feel supported and loved.

Continue to check in with them, after the funeral too. This can be the loneliest time for people who are grieving.

Don't feel you've got to solve anything, or even say anything. You might feel helpless, but just being there and listening can be really helpful.

If it feels appropriate and you're able to, share your memories of the person who's gone, during a chat, or in a card or letter. For the bereaved person, this can feel like being given back little pieces of the person they've lost.

They might prefer to have one friend for going out, another to study with and so on. Make allowances for what works for them.

Marie Curie has more tips and advice on supporting someone who is grieving.

Coping with grief and loss on big occasions

A girl sitting in a living room with her friends. She is looking away as they talk behind her and seems left out of the conversation.

Big occasions, such as birthdays and holidays like Eid or Christmas, can be a painful time if you’ve lost someone important to you. Being around lots of friends and family can cause you to think about the people who aren’t there, which can bring feelings of grief and loss to the surface.

On these occasions, it’s important to remember to look after yourself. If you feel things are becoming too much, make sure to give yourself time away from others. Give yourself space to remember that your loved one is not there and that it’s natural to miss them. Remember too that everyone grieves differently, so try and be sensitive to the needs of your friends and family as well.

A father and son sitting together outside in nature

You might find it helpful before a big family or social occasion to make a plan of what you’re going to do if you start to feel overwhelmed. For example, it might help to tell someone you trust about your concerns, so you have someone to check in with or take a timeout with if things get too much. Or maybe you could think about taking breaks and finding a quiet space to ground yourself before joining the group again.

You may find it helpful to use big occasions as a way to remember someone you’ve lost. Take a look at some tips below for ways to honour the memory of your loved one.

  • Family traditions

    You may want to continue old family traditions, such as playing a game together, or perhaps you’d rather create a new family tradition.

  • Mark the memory of your loved one

    Try doing something special to mark the memory of the person that has died, such as visiting a special place, reading a poem, or lighting a candle.

  • Visit their grave or where their ashes were scattered

    Take a special item, such as a Christmas card or flowers, to place on the person’s grave or where their ashes were scattered.

  • Write a message

    Ask friends and family to write messages to your loved one. Cut them out and hang them as decorations.

  • Share memories

    Include time during your occasion for friends and family to share memories of your loved one together.

  • Remember their favourite things

    Celebrate the day in ways that your loved one liked to celebrate. Perhaps they had a favourite meal to eat or a favourite piece of music to listen to.

A mother reassures her son by putting her hand on his head
During the Christmas holidays there is often an unspoken pressure on everyone to come across as cheerful. Please know that you do not have to pretend that you’re okay just for the comfort of others.
Louisa, 17
medium shot of two girls sitting on a couch one is using a phone while another girl is glancing on her phone bottles and drinks are on the table as foreground
It’s okay to not be with people the whole of the Christmas period and just a small amount of time to recharge can be very beneficial.
Zoe, 20

Get help now

If you're not sure where to turn for support right now, these organisations can help. 

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